New police pursuit bill signed by Gov. Inslee

May 4, 2023, 7:04 AM | Updated: 9:13 am

police pursuit...

Around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Washington state House passed an amended version of the state Senate's police pursuit bill. (Photo By Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

(Photo By Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Governor Inslee signed a new police pursuit law into place, rolling back some restrictions from previous laws limiting when police in Washington could engage in a pursuit.

It changes the wording of the existing law to allow pursuits if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” rather than “probable cause” of a violent crime.

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Before the legislative session ended in April, a a police pursuit bill set to loosen restrictions for chasing criminals narrowly passed in the Washington state Senate before the 5 p.m. deadline with a vote of 26-23 despite its companion bill, House Bill 1363, failing to advance beyond the House floor.

With new amendments to the legislation, the bill would allow police to pursue a suspect if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed. Specifically in cases involving violent offenses, sex offenses, vehicular assault, an escape, domestic violence assaults, and DUI.

Reasonable suspicion, as applied in Washington search and seizure laws, defines as “present when the officer has an objective belief, based on specific and articulable facts.”

The previous version of the bill required ‘probable cause’ to engage in a pursuit, which needs clear and objective circumstances or evidence that suggest criminal activity.

The bill also says that officers could chase a suspect as long as the suspect poses a serious risk of harm to others.

The legislation does contain a provision that would require officers engaging in pursuit to have emergency vehicle operator training and be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option, such as spike strips.

“It’s kind of a fine line, and the way I look at it is, at what point are we going to say, you could pursue a stolen car, but do we really want to endanger a person’s life? Put people in danger? Not only the officer but the public in danger over a stolen car?” Sen. John Lovick, a Democrat representing the 44th district, the bills sponsor said. “I’m just not there yet. But I’m not saying maybe next year, we can’t come back and take a closer look at that.”

Lovick was a state trooper for 31 years and was named Trooper of the Year in 1992. In addition, he served a total of 13 years in the United States Coast Guard, including time patrolling the waters off Alaska.

Republicans and Democrats voted both ways on the bill — many arguing it was not about politics — but rather about public safety.

Representative David Hackney (D-Tukwila) voted “Yes” because of soaring crime in his district, which includes Tukwila, Renton, and Kent.

“I’ll tell you that in my district, we need police more and more as we are suffering from some of the highest property and violent crime rates in King County,” Hackney said.

Also voting a reluctant “Yes,” WA Rep. Greg Cheney (R-Battle Ground) – because he says it paves a path to the future.

“This is a bill that has to be worked on in the future, even if it is passed tonight,” Cheney said. “Vehicle thefts in this state, according to Washington State Patrol, over the last year are up 88%.”

Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier (D-Vancouver) said she reluctantly voted “Yes” because the new threshold is a game changer for many crimes, especially human trafficking.

“And that’s because the technicalities around reasonable suspicion determine whether or not human trafficking can be disrupted in my community,” Stonier said.

Inslee acknowledged Wednesday that many law enforcement groups are hoping for more changes in the future. He compared the police pursuit problem to climbing Mount Everest at the bill signing, saying it needs to be addressed step by step.

“I believe this is a step forward, a reasonable measure and balance, to ensure public safety,” Inslee said during the bill signing.

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New police pursuit bill signed by Gov. Inslee